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Voyces a perfect match for silent Peter Pan;
Choral group lends deft musical touch to Barrie's classic film


Richard Todd, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Sunday, October 19, 2008

Movies have had sound for about 80 years now, and that's doubtless a good thing. It has enabled film to become one of the most expressive of the arts. Still, there was a whole generation during which motion pictures did without, and among them were such masterpieces as The Passion of Joan of Arc, Battleship Potemkin and City Lights.

Does Herbert Brenon's 1924 adaptation of James M. Barrie's Peter Pan bear such lofty comparison? Perhaps not, but it would take a heart of stone and a terminal aversion to intertitles for anyone to deny that it is a very good film indeed.

The Seventeen Voyces and their conductor, Kevin Reeves (himself a filmmaker), have presented a number of silent films in recent years, providing a musical accompaniment with the able assistance of organist Matthew Larkin.

Or perhaps that's putting it backwards; it's Larkin's improvisations that provide the musical backbone to the shows.

Not only are they imaginative and thoroughly apt, one has the sense that Larkin is having a good time doing them. This isn't to sell the Voyces short. They sang very well in last night's presentation, but they came in third, after the film and Larkin, in the interest they created.

The choral material by composers ranging from Purcell to Vaughan Williams to Britten was atmospheric. It was effective to the extent that you could ignore the words. For example, Captain Hook's attempt to poison Peter was accompanied by the Agnus Dei from a Britten Mass.

The film really is a charmer. Barrie personally selected Betty Bronson for the title character, beginning a tradition of Peter being what we would call a britches role in opera. She is a delight, nimble, childishly expressive and not excessively feminine.

Another standout among the well-cast actors is Ernest Torrence's over-the-top Captain Hook. And then there's Nana, the St. Bernard nursemaid. George Ali, a well-known animal imitator of the era, does a great job with her. He is less impressive as the crocodile, but how much character development does a crocodile need?

Last night's audience amounted to fewer than 200, which is surprising considering the popularity of previous efforts like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera. The show will be repeated tonight, however. If you missed it last night, don't compound your misfortune by staying at home.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2008



 

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